9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN12 Environment and Society

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Environment Citizenship Building I, Auditório J.J. Laginha

From individual to collective change and beyond? Ecological citizenship and politicisation

Changing individual consumer behaviour is fast becoming the ?holy grail? of transition towards a sustainable society both in academic literature and in the practice of the conventional environmental movement. However, recent, more radical environmental movements have questioned the ?post-political? consensus around the centrality of individual behaviour change. They prefer to address individuals as citizens rather than as consumers, and focus on the collective rather than the individual level. Two of the most prominent of these movements in Flanders (Belgium) are the recently launched Transition Towns and the Climate Action movement. They explicitly present themselves as a renewal and a break from the traditional practices of the environmental movement. However, both formulate a very different, even almost contradictory critique on the conventional environmental movement, and put forward very different strategies, discourses and practices about what has to happen instead. We analyzed this in terms of the different place and content they attribute to ?the political.? More precisely, they give a different content to what it means to be an ecologically committed citizen and have different approaches to how and why community and collective practices have to be built. The discourse of the Transition Towns movement stresses the importance of inclusion and locality, the psychology of change and the creation of feelings and practices of social connectedness. Through this, and in contrast to the Climate Action movement, Transition Towns presents itself explicitly as non-political, in the sense of non-conflictual, or not oriented to political power.
In this paper, we engage in a comparative study of the different conceptions of citizenship and community-building of both movements, based upon qualitative research into the self-understanding of their participants. Its focus is on how they understand the kind of social relations they create with their fellows on the one hand, and with people outside the movement (government, unengaged people, corporations etc.) on the other hand.